United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Laredo Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Garcia Marmolejo United States District Judge
the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress, which
challenges “the detention, search and seizure of the
Defendant's vehicle, its occupants, the Defendant and
co-Defendant” (Dkt. No. 53).
Court held an evidentiary hearing on October 31, 2019. At
that hearing, the Government introduced a recording of a 911
call and offered the testimony of Lieutenant Fernando
Hernandez, Jr., Investigator Ramon Arambula, and Investigator
Juan Molina of the Zapata County Sheriff's Office.
Defendant introduced a video from a police body-worn camera
but did not call any witnesses.
carefully considered the evidence, the parties'
arguments, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the
Government has not met its burden to establish reasonable
suspicion to stop, search, or seize Defendant. Therefore,
Defendant's motion to suppress (Dkt. No. 53) is
August 2, 2019, at 4:09 p.m., the Zapata County Sheriff's
Office received an anonymous 911 call about a suspicious
vehicle near the Falcon Lake Tackle Shop on Highway 83, just
south of Zapata. The caller stated:
I don't know if it's really an emergency. I was
coming up to the … Falcon Lake Tackle Shop, and
… there's a white Lincoln parked on the side of
the road. They had a bunch of trash thrown out of their
car…. [T]here were four guys, and they're very,
very suspicious guys. I pulled up and asked them about the
trash that they threw out of their car, and one of them had a
knife on him and he starts getting out and he starts picking
up the trash and starts saying, “I'm sorry I'm
sorry I didn't mean it I didn't mean it” and
just acting very suspicious, but they drove off
(Dkt. No. 62-1 at 3, 8). The caller specified that the
vehicle was an “older Lincoln” and stated that it
was headed toward Zapata (id. at 8). He did not give
his name, and the 911 system did not record his phone number
or location (id. at 3, 8).
Sheriff's Office dispatched three patrol units, which
consisted of Lieutenant Fernando Hernandez, Investigator
Ramon Arambula, and Investigator Juan Molina, to search for
the Lincoln (Dkt. No. 74 at 28). The officers were not given
any information about the caller but only a general
description of a car that had been “reported
littering” (id. at 24). About five
minutes later, Hernandez spotted an older-model, white
Lincoln parked in front of the Dollar General store on
Highway 83, which was just north of where the alleged
littering had occurred (id. at 10-11).
who was in uniform, parked his marked patrol unit near an
entrance to the parking lot. He could see “nothing
unusual” about the Lincoln: it was relatively clean,
displayed “regular license plate[s], ” and had
normal windows and suspension (id. at 12, 29-31).
Three men were sitting in the backseat with the engine
idling, but no one was in the front (id. at 12, 31).
The backseat passengers did not appear in any distress, nor
did they try to “hide” or “cover their
faces” as Hernandez approached (id. at
started “knocking pretty loud” on the
Lincoln's rear driver-side window. The passengers,
however, did not acknowledge him, which Hernandez
“consider[ed] suspicious.” Hernandez “kept
on knocking” on the window, yet the passengers
continued to ignore him. Finally, Hernandez loudly
“instructed them to open the door, and they opened the
[rear driver-side] door” (id. at 13-14,
followed is not entirely clear. On direct examination,
Hernandez testified that the passengers were
“sweating” and wearing clothes that looked as
though they had “just crossed [the border].”
Based on his training and experience, Hernandez concluded
that the passengers were undocumented aliens (Dkt. No. 74 at
The defense, however, introduced video footage from a police
body-worn camera. The video shows the backseat driver-side
passenger wearing clean, white sneakers and otherwise dressed
neatly in jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap. The other
passengers do not appear disheveled either, though the video
does not show them clearly (Dkt. No. 63-1). Confronted with
this footage on cross examination, Hernandez agreed that the
driver-side passenger did not appear sweaty or dirty.
“If I'm not mistaken, ” Hernandez clarified,
“the one in the middle [ ] was pretty unsanitary I
think” (Dkt. No. 74 at 52).
proceeded to question the backseat passengers, who informed
him in Spanish that the driver and front passenger were in
the dollar store. At that point, Investigators Arambula and
Molina arrived on the scene (id. at 14-15, 30). One
of them parked behind the Lincoln, and the other parked
“facing the side of the [Lincoln]” and blocking
it in (id. at 30, 34). Hernandez advised them that
the backseat passengers might be undocumented and told them
to look for the driver and front passenger in the store
(id. at 15, 55, 68).
is a “small town, ” so it is “easy”
for the police to identify people who do not belong there
(id. at 75). When the investigators entered the
store, they noticed two men, later identified as Defendant
and co-Defendant Juan Manuel Martinez, in line at the cash
register (id. at 69). Molina observed that, when
Defendant and Martinez saw the officers, they made a
“small movement” in the direction of an
employees-only office, as if to hide there (id. at
then moved quickly. Arambula stayed by the door in order to
“avoid anybody leaving, ” while Molina approached
the suspects and immediately escorted Martinez outside
(id. at 63, 78). Meanwhile, Hernandez entered the
store after more officers arrived on the scene. He escorted
Defendant outside right behind Martinez (id. at 15).
As the suspects were being removed from the store, the
officers asked which of them was the driver of the Lincoln.
Defendant and Martinez began to accuse each other of ...